Atlanta/ Crime & Emergencies
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Published on May 15, 2024
Appeals Court Upholds Ruling, Houston County Must Cover Transgender Deputy's SurgerySource: Google Street View

A federal appeals court has ruled that Houston County discriminated against a transgender sheriff’s deputy when it refused to cover her gender-affirming surgery, upholding a lower court decision. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed on Monday that Houston County's denial of coverage was a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In a 2-1 decision, the appellate judges concurred with U.S. District Court Judge Marc Treadwell's earlier ruling, which found that the county acted unlawfully by not providing Sgt. Anna Lange with the health benefits she is due. Treadwell's 2022 decision leaned heavily on a precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2020, which stated a Michigan funeral home could not terminate an employee for being transgender. Lange had sued the county and Sheriff Cullen Talton in 2019 after her insurance denied the procedure, and the county, subsequently sought to overturn Treadwell’s verdict and the damages awarded to Lange.

The legal battle took a significant turn when Lange's surgery was finally covered, and a jury awarded her $60,000 in damages as acknowledgment of the discrimination she faced. "I have proudly served my community for decades and it has been deeply painful to have the county fight tooth and nail, redirecting valuable resources toward denying me basic health care – health care that the courts and a jury of my peers have already agreed I deserve," Lange expressed in a news release from the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, as reported by WABE.

The pivotal aspect of the case revolved around Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, among other characteristics. The 11th Circuit's opinion drew from the highest court's interpretation, stating that discrimination on the basis of transgender status "necessarily entails discrimination based on sex." Despite the court's decision, reaching out to the sheriff's office proved difficult; a woman who answered the phone Tuesday said she would pass along a message seeking comment, according to WABE.

This latest affirmation of Lange's rights by the 11th Circuit emphasizes the ongoing conversation and legal considerations regarding transgender rights in the workplace, a topic that has seen a growing number of legal battles across various states. The Houston County case not only reaffirms the protections under the Civil Rights Act for transgender individuals but also sets a precedent for other similar cases in the future.